A few months ago, a friend of mine—who identifies as a woman of color—brought the #MeAndWhiteSupremacy hashtag, started by Layla Saad, to my attention. “She is making white women explore their internalized racism!” my friend said. Saad created the hashtag as a 28-day challenge in June for people holding white privilege to examine their complicity in white supremacy.
In some circles, talking about race might be encouraged, or feared, or both. Examining privilege, racism, and white fragility can get uncomfortable. But it’s necessary.
The challenge quickly went viral, with thousands of participants from all around the world taking part in a profound collective truth-telling journey to help them unpack and dismantle their internalized racism. Over the course of a month, Saad guided participants through simple yet powerful journaling prompts that held up a mirror for them to see and own their complicity in a system that is in many ways designed to oppress and marginalize Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).
The impact of the challenge was far bigger than Saad could have ever anticipated. Over the next few months, she collected and expanded the challenge into a downloadable book: the Me and White Supremacy Workbook, designed to help people continue the work. Within 10 days of publishing, Saad shared on Instagram that the book had been downloaded over 20,000 times.
To have a productive conversation about race and white supremacy, one must find ways to be at ease in discomfort, or at least invite discomfort in and sit with it. We have been raised to feel discomfort, but before we were able to discuss it openly, we were invited to be silent, and to erase ourselves as much as possible. Layla’s work is important on so many levels; while it is mainly targeting white folks who are interested in understanding and breaking the way they exist within white supremacy, it is also an important conversation for minorities to explore within themselves. Colonial power has infiltrated the way we talk about ourselves; as people of color, it has divided us between different identities and sub-identities, and for some has resulted in cultural erasure or self-loathing to a point where we are at odds with who we are and where we come from. I look forward to a future where the Me and White Supremacy Workbook is explored in homes, workplaces, and schools around the world.
I reached out to Saad the same way she first connected with so many: via Instagram. Here, we discuss origin stories, what led her to this work, why she’s making the workbook free, and how she deals with racist trolls.
I see you’re based in Qatar. I’m from the Middle East too—Lebanon. Are you from Qatar?
Whenever people ask me the question, “Where are you from?”, I answer, “A lot of places!” I have a very international background. My mother is from the East African island of Zanzibar. My father is from the East African island of Mombasa. Both of them have Omani roots, and both of them immigrated to Wales for studies in their early twenties, which is where they met, married, and had me and my two younger brothers. I grew up in Wales for the first 8 years of my life, then we moved to Tanzania to be close to my mother’s parents for about a year and a half. We eventually moved back to Wales, and then relocated to Swindon in England, where we lived until I was 15.
Then in 1999, my father was headhunted for a job out in the Middle East, so we moved to Qatar. That brought us closer to some of my mother’s family who live in Oman, and to her mother, who had moved to Oman from Tanzania. The original plan my parents had was for us to stay for three years until it was time for me to go to university, and then the whole family would move back to the UK. However, when the time came, my parents had decided they quite liked living in Qatar, so I went to the UK myself for my studies, and would come back every holiday. When I graduated with my law degree, I decided to move back to what was now "home"—Qatar.
What has inspired your work?
My work explores the intersections of race, spirituality, feminism, and leadership. These areas of my work have been inspired by a lot of things. My own personal story of dealing with depression and anxiety in my early twenties is what initiated my journey into the world of personal growth, emotional healing, wellness, and spirituality. My personal experiences as a Black woman have inspired my work with race and feminism. I started working for myself back in 2014 after my son was born, and my work at the time was centered around life and business coaching, with a spiritual twist. Around 2016, I became connected with various teachers—many of them Black women—who were talking and teaching about social justice. That began to plant seeds within me, where I began to explore how racism and other oppressive practices and paradigms were being perpetuated in the personal growth, spirituality, and wellness industry.
The defining moment came for me when the Unite The Right rally happened in Charlottesville in 2017. That day, I was compelled by a force beyond me to pen an open letter titled "I need to talk to spiritual white women about white supremacy." The letter quickly went viral, with hundreds of thousands of people around the world reading it. That was when I explicitly began to bring racial justice advocacy and discourse into my work.
Tell me a little bit how the project evolved, from the first Instagram post to the entire book.
When I first started the Instagram challenge, I had no plan. No agenda. I was just following that internal voice that told me to do the work. However, as I began to run the challenge—and especially in that first week where we covered things like white privilege, white fragility, tone policing, and white superiority—I began to see that this was much more than just an Instagram challenge. I began to see how asking these simple questions opened the door for people with white privilege to really look in the mirror. To really dig deep. I knew that I didn’t want this work to end when the challenge ended. And so I decided to turn it into a book that could be used as a resource and a tool that people could turn to throughout their lifelong anti-racism practice.
There is a lot of racism and hate online. How are you able to navigate racism, hate messages, and trolls online while holding space for sharing your writing?
Yes, there is a lot of racism and hate online. The way that I’m able to navigate all of that is that I’ve learned to put myself first. And by that I mean I don’t sacrifice myself for this work. I don’t make my back the bridge upon which white privileged people become better. I’m very strong on self-care, so that when I give to the world I am giving from a full and overflowing cup.
An important part of that self-care is having strong boundaries—both external and internal. My external boundaries include not answering DMs, limiting who can message me, not engaging with people who are antagonistic, and using the block button liberally. My internal boundaries come from doing my inner work. I have a mentor who is a Black woman, and she and I have sessions every two weeks. These sessions have helped me to better self-manage, to stay focused, to heal my core wounds, to be intentional about when and how I use my energy, and so much more. Before working with my mentor, I was burnt out and exhausted because I didn’t know how to do these things. Without the consistent inner work that I do, there is no way that I could hold space for thousands of people the way that I do without sacrificing myself in the process. Because I’m clear that I come first, I do what I need to do for me first, and then I take care of everyone else.
"MY PURPOSE IS TO BECOME A GOOD ANCESTOR."
What are your goals with publishing a free book online?
My first goal with this book is for me, which is to live my purpose. My purpose is to become a good ancestor. I know that if I were to do nothing else now for the rest of my life, I can live with the knowledge that I have created a legacy of good ancestorship with this book. This book has reached and will continue to reach tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of people all over the world, and the fact that it is free means that there is no barrier for white privileged people to begin or deepen their personal anti-racism work. That is something that I am both proud of and grateful for.
My second goal is to ease the burden of oppression and harm that BIPOC carry because of interactions with white privileged people who have not done their inner work. I want BIPOC who are dealing with racism from white privileged people, or who want white privileged people around them to show up in a better way to be able to say, “Go sign up for this free resource and do the work. Everything I want you to know is in there.” By me doing the emotional and intellectual labor in putting the workbook together and offering it for free, I am hoping that this will ease the burden of emotional and intellectual labor that BIPOC often find themselves doing.
Who is your audience and how did they find you, or you find them?
My audience found me through the work I put out into the world. Because of the intersections that my work explores, my audience tends to largely be people who are interested in these topics—or have a desire to become more educated in these topics. My audience is largely, but not exclusively, white. However, as a Black woman writer, I have learned just how important it is for me to not write for the white gaze. So even when writing something like the workbook, I have written it from the perspective of a person who is unapologetically Black.